by Daniel Walker - 2 years, 9 months ago
SPAIN 2016: 1 Preparation and Madrid
Monday, May 9, 2016
This trip is for an “adopted” grand daughter, the daughter of our first caretaker and his wife. While we were able to get a visa for her older brother Jesus to travel to Canada, we were never able to get a visa for Stephanie. Marilynn tried several times after she was 10, and was always turned down by the US embassy for reasons they refused to divulge. The US visa was required only to change planes between Costa Rica and Canada. Stephanie is now a young lady 20 years old, so this trip was to make up for the others she had missed.
Yesterday we left San Jose on a very comfortable Iberia Airlines non-stop flight to Madrid on an Airbus 340-600. It was the first time Stephanie has been out of Costa Rica, and the first time on a plane. The food wasn't great, but the service was good and the continually circulating bottles of wine ensured we would drop off to sleep easily.
For some reason Stephanie was pulled out of line at customs and sent through an area where we were not permitted, but was soon returned with no harm done to our great relief. We took the internal train to terminal 1 where our Eurorail passes were validated. The helpful employee also pointed out that because of the train pass we could have free tickets for the 38 minute trip into the central part of the city where our hotel was located.
Once off the train we were trying to figure out a dispenser for metro (subway) tickets when I noticed I had left my backpack on the train. The fellow in the ticket booth was very abrupt and unhelpful, however a security guard went out of his way to track down both the train and my backpack. Minutes later another security guard showed up with the backpack, which they had me check carefully to ensure all contents were intact – they were. I tried to give the guard money for his trouble, but he refused, saying it was his job. He then told us that it was only about a 10 minute walk to our hotel, and we really wouldn't need the subway. After walking us to the street and pointing out the way he gave a friendly wave and headed back to the station,
At this point it began to pour cold rain, and the route to our hotel was all up hill. Fortunately we are staying in the old part of the city with many neighbourhood bars and restaurants, so we ducked into a bar for beer, snacks and warmth. The friendly bartender went over the map the hotel gave us, confirming we were on the right track, however the rain continued so by the time we found the hotel we were soaked.
The Sercotel Suites Vienna Hotel was more modern than I had expected, and very clean. We were in a fairly basic fifth floor room with three single beds, plus stove top, sink, fridge and microwave oven. It had a large bathroom with tub and shower. The location is excellent on the narrow streets of the old city, and near palaces, squares and monuments and the staff very helpful.
Being a bit tired of walking in the rain we took a cab to Plaza Mayor, recommended by hotel reception for restaurants and shops. This is a beautiful ancient area of winding pedestrian streets and interesting shops. We had lunch at a restaurant on the square, with ample wine, finishing with Sangria, which Stephanie decided she liked very much.
Near to the square Marilynn spotted a market, which turned out to be unlike any we'd ever seen. It was full of different beer, wine and food stands. There were people circulating with trays containing bottles of wine and glasses. Almost everyone had a glass in their hands. It was a pretty amazing place, where we tried sangria at a variety of locations before heading off on foot in a very happy state of mind.
There were a large number of huge, old churches along our route. I can't imagine how so many in such a small area could support themselves. Fortunately, the rain stopped and the sun came out as we wound our merry way through the old streets. One street had brass letters embedded in it saying it was paved in 1567. When we arrived at the Palacio Real it had closed for the day, so we took a taxi home where dinner was at a local restaurant.
Back at the hotel Marilynn checked with reception to find that they had been unable to book a paella cooking class they were both keen on, but that we were confirmed for a flamenco show tomorrow night. None of us had any problem getting to sleep!
Tuesday, May 10, 2016
The hotel has a good, and reasonably price, breakfast, which we took advantage of before walking to Plaza de Espania where we didn't find a mobile phone shop, but there women did get in some shopping We noticed a hop on hop off tour bus stop, so bought a day pass each, riding both routes and stopping to go through a science museum. Madrid has some very beautiful old buildings. It was quite cold on the bus, although not raining.
Once done with the buses more shopping was in order, so I waited in a bar drinking beer and eating free snacks with each drink. This used to be the custom in Costa Rica, but no longer. The women were to join me, however after four beer I headed back to the hotel where I found they had missed the taverna I was in, so we walked a short distance to another local restaurant for dinner.
Wednesday, May 11, 2016
Today we were determined to find a SIM for Marilynn's mobile phone, as I had promised a phone number to various guides and hotels along our route. The hotel recommended we go to the Cortes Ingles department story where we were successful. The price was 15 euros instead of the 70 euros the airport kiosk wanted.
Our next target was a money changer, so after trying a couple of banks with no success and Banco Santander where they did change money, but there was a very long line, we found a Western Union. We received a lesser exchange rate than official, but the service was quick, so I exchanged less than I had originally planned to.
The ladies wanted to go shopping, so I waited in the sun on a bench in Plaza de Espania. When they were shopped out we walked to Palacio Real, a palace worth visiting. The public are permitted to tour the part of the palace where King Carlos III resided, however the residence of the current king is private. It gave a very good impression of the opulence in which past kings resided.
We were on our way into the Cathedral, which faces the palace across a paved plaza, when I check my pocket and discovered my wallet was gone, and with it money, passport, inoculation certificates, bank card, Canadian drivers license and many other cards and documents. It is one of those moments where the stomach seems to drop to the toes! It had been in a zippered pocket in my jacket, not easy to remove, but I didn't feel a thing.
We headed for the Canadian Embassy by taxi. The driver didn't know where it was, but his GPS led him to a building where there was a Canadian flag on the roof, so out we got. After walking around and asking questions we couldn't find the embassy, so we took the elevator to the Swiss Embassy, where they kindly printed out directions to a new location far away.
During the next taxi ride we phoned the number provided by the Swiss, and found the embassy was still open but only for another 15 minutes. We arrived with minutes to spare, and were presented with a pile of forms and instructions, plus they notified the Canadian Consulate in Barcelona to expect us, as they could do a temporary passport.
Among things we required were new passport photos as the ones I carry are more than 6 months old, and a police report. We were provided with directions to a photo place 10 minutes away. The walk was more like 20 minutes, and when we arrived they were closed in spite of their published hours showed 2 hours later.
Some people in front of the building gave us directions to another place a “few minutes” away. This proved to be another long hike, with my bad knees protesting strongly at the abuse they were getting. This one fortunately was open, so photos were obtained. The next taxi was asked to take us to the closest police station, which turned out to be less than two blocks away. After a long wait we received an official report.
One more long taxi ride took us back to a neighbourhood pub where drinks were more important than food, so we ate snacks for dinner. We were drained, but at least they did not get my CR drivers license or ID, my credit card, the euros or our prepaid train tickets. We were still funcional Marilynn contacted our Costa Rica office where they notified the bank of the problem and ensured sufficient funds would be available for Marilynn's debit card.
Spain 2016: 2 Barcelona
Thursday, May 12, 2016
After an early start by taxi to the Puerta Atocha train station we boarded the comfortable 8:30 AM AVE train to Barcelona. The cafeteria car has light snacks and drinks, alcoholic and otherwise. We clipped along over the Spanish countryside at around 300 kph, making only one stop in Zaragoza for an on time arrival to the minute.
A taxi soon got us to the Canadian Consulate located on the first floor of a building facing Plaza Catalunya in city centre. We handed over the paperwork I completed on the train and we were told the temporary passport would be ready in the morning.
Marilynn's cell phone was not doing well with the SIM card, so we went across the street to the Cortes Ingeses department store where Marilynn changed to the Orange network, which seems better. The price again was 15 euros including a gigabyte of internet. We also found an ATM machine in the store, so used Marilynn's debit card to extract enough cash to last us awhile.
We called Petra, who manages the Bonavista Apartments, and she was waiting when we arrived by taxi. The apartment is locate in the Fontana area, an old part of the city where the streets are very narrow and there are many small shops, bars and restaurants. The apartment has a living room with a sofa bed for Stephanie, two beds in the bedroom and a fully equipped kitchen with washer and dryer.
Once settled in we walked down the street, lunching at an Arabic Restaurant before stopping at a small market to purchase breakfast food and other essentials. It is a nice area with friendly people.
After another taxi ride to town we walked around a bit before having dinner at a restaurant very close to the Trivoli Theatre, where we had tickets to see Las Vivancos. They are 7 male dancers that the women thought were very sexy. They played musical instruments and tap danced in boots vertically, and upside down hanging from a scaffold. There were some great special effects in the amazing show, which received 3 standing ovations, one after each encore
We left very high from the excitement of the show, so stopped where we had dinner for a nightcap before taking a taxi home. The waiter was very free with his pouring – bottles were brought to the table and the measures were surprisingly generous
Friday, May 13, 2016
We took a taxi to the Canadian Consulate first thing in the morning, and I was handed my new passport, good for one year.
We decided to top off our cash reserves at the Cortes Ingeses department store again, guessing the amount we would need for the rest of the trip, as we were not sure if we could make another ATM work – we had tried others that didn't.
Across the plaza was an open topped double deck bus operated by Barcelona City Tour, so we paid 76 euros for a day hop on hop off pass. We first rode one route, getting a good feel for the city and seeing some amazing buildings, beaches and parks, however we found the staff very unfriendly and minimally helpful. They seemed to resent the customers. We later found out the company was government owned, which helped explain the situation.
After lunch at a Taverna near the plaza we took the same bus line on another route, stopping to take a gondola lift up to a fort that was originally founded before 1073, and updated to its current form in 1753. We next left the bus at an area of buildings depicting architectural styles of different parts of Spain that was built for the 1929 world's fair. The description from the bus was that there were bars and restaurants in the area so we got off to have a drink, however it didn't say that there was a 10 euro per head entrance charge, which would have made a pretty expensive drink, so we chose not to go in. During the long wait for the bus 6 buses from the private company, Barcelona Bus Turistic, went by. We regretted not having booked the tour with them.
Once on the bus I couldn't find the tickets. I checked with Marilynn and she didn't have them, but she had the receipt from the ticket purchase, a receipt from the cable car at the last stop, their earphones & discount books. None of this would do, however, so the woman selling tickets demanded that the driver stop immediately and we were unceremoniously told to get off the bus. We weren't very happy with this outfit anyhow, but that really finished us.
There was a sidewalk bar where we had a drink, then found a taxi to take us to the Barcelona football stadium where Stephanie bought a shirt with a player's name on it at the request of a friend in Costa Rica. We decided to take the subway back home, which required another long uphill hike, however we did figure out how to get tickets. Once in our neighbourhood we walked around until we found a Moroccan Restaurant that was quite good.
Both Stephanie and Marilynn speak Spanish fluently, but are have some difficulty understanding the Catalan dialect – many words are totally different.
Saturday, May 14, 2016
The idea today was to head for the Aquarium, but my knees were very painful, so Marilynn and Stephanie went on their own while I got caught up on some writing. They had a great time. The aquarium has a clear see through passage under the ocean where all kinds of ocean creatures surround people walking along. They both had an excellent time, making a full day of it.
When they returned we went to the interesting taverna next to the apartment, then ended with an excellent meal at a nearby pasta restaurant.
Spain 2016: 3 Cordoba to Malaga, Granada
Sunday, May 15, 2016
We were up at 4:45 AM to have breakfast in the apartment, walk to the metro, and find the right part of the Barcelona Sants railway station to catch the train back to Madrid. As we approached Madrid we watched the temperature gradually drop back to 15 degrees as we got away from the balmy Mediterranean climate of Barcelona. We had about an hour before the high speed train to Cordoba departed. This train had very comfortable seats and more leg room than the last one, lacking only plug ins for charging batteries. I enjoyed a couple of beers while watching the scenery flash past.
In Cordoba we taxied to the very nice Eurostar Maimonides Hotel, which is located in the massive old walled city and right across the street from the huge Mazquita Cathedral. From the hotel narrow streets slope down to the River Guadalquivir, where a large, ancient Roman bridge connects a castle-like guard tower with the town. The hotel is named after Mushah Ben Maimun, a Jewish philosopher and doctor who wrote 10 books on medicine. He was born in Cordoba in 1135, was denounced by the Muslims and fled to Cairo where he died in 1204 at 69 years of age. Much of the old city is still called “La Juderia”, or Jewish area.
After a walk on the warm sunny day and lunch at a not great restaurant recommended by the hotel staff we took a horse drawn carriage ride through the streets of the old town. Many streets are too narrow even for a horse and buggy. The architecture hides behind a high front wall on the street, but has an open area inside called a patio. The annual patio competition has just been held, and tours of the most beautiful patios are available at certain hours.
The place was alive with people, massive crowds as this is tourist high season. Restaurants and sidewalk cafes were all doing a roaring business, and musicians roamed the streets singing and dancing. It is a very lively area. We put off a visit to the cathedral until tomorrow, as the lines for tickets to enter appeared to be about 2 hours long.
After dinner at a taverna with far better food and drinks, we walked to a flamenco dancing show that the hotel had reserved for us. It started with a talented young fellow playing Spanish guitar, then a couple of male singers doing Arabic type songs followed by a female flamenco dancer, however the star of the show was a male dancer who had the fastest feet I have ever seen. It was very worth while. It was midnight when the show ended and the city was shutting down, so we had trouble finding somewhere to buy water, but eventually succeeded.
Monday, May 16, 2016
After a noisy night, caused partly by having the window open because the air conditioning blew only hot air, we got off to a late start. After breakfast at the hotel we went directly across to the cathedral to find that already the lines were hundreds of people long, so gave that up. I caught up on emails and writing while the ladies went shopping before we taxied to the train station to catch the 1:30 PM train to Malaga.
Malaga is a lovely, clean city. A taxi took us to the end of a street where a pedestrian only district begins. The streets are lined with shops, restaurants and bars. We walked about a block and a half to the Unisierra Apartments where Maria, the administrator, was waiting for us. We are on the 4th floor, serviced by a 2 person elevator. The apartment is huge, and the kitchen is equipped with all major appliances. It is the best bargain of the trip to date. The big living room has two sofas, one which makes into a bed, a large bedroom with 2 beds and loads of closet space.
Once settled we walked across the narrow street to eat at a sidewalk cafe. There is also a bar beside the restaurant, both in front of our door. Once fed we walked to a giant Ferris wheel, built along the lines of the wheel in London, where enclosed seats took people up for a spectacular view of the city.
The wheel is located in the docks area, so we walked along the waterfront under a covering that provides shade for the entire route. When we stopped for a beer and snacks Marilynn spotted a glass bottomed tour boat, so we climbed aboard for sightseeing trip. We could see fog coming in, so were forewarned we wouldn't see much - and we didn't. We soon were enveloped in dense fog, and the guide was of no use in providing information so I went below and slept for awhile. There were only about 12 passengers on the boat including us. They did include beer and wine in the trip, but both Marilynn & Stephanie lit into the owner of the boat company in front of the useless guide when we got off.
Once back on land we took a taxi to a supermarket to stock the apartment with breakfast supplies. Dinner was at an excellent sidewalk cafe a short distance away where street musicians continually strolled by playing various instruments.
Malaga was founded some 2,800 years ago by the Phoenicians as a trade centre. It was under Roman rule for 600 years, then for the 350 years after the 4th century it was under the Visigoth's fundamentalist Christian rule. The Islamic Moors ruled from 711 until 1492 when the Christian monarchy, Fernando and Elizabeth, defeated the last of the Moors.
Tuesday, May 17, 2016
After breakfast in the apartment we were picked up by Maike Ange, the owner of Malaga Speciales, and Luis our driver, in a 9 passenger Mercedes van, for a trip to Granada. The trip was quick on good express highway. We passed the town of Santa Fe, where for 10 years the Spanish king and queen stayed with their army fighting the last Moorish king for Granada. It was here that the contract was signed with Christopher Columbus to finance his trip to the Americas. The Sierra Nevada mountains were in front of us at this point, up to 11,000 feet high and covered with snow, where skiing is available for 6 months of the year.
In our travels in Spain we have seen a lot of olive trees, and today was no exception. According to Maike there are about 300 varieties of olive trees in Spain, of which around 30 are in common use. Spain provides about 45% of the world's olive oil, and Andalusia provides 80% of Spanish production. We have had some delicious samples, as free tapas are served with each beer, and olives are often the first one.
After a walk through old city of Granada and a stop for lunch in one of the squares we rode a tiny local bus that navigates the narrow streets, back to our van. By stopping to rests my knees periodically I managed to navigate the long walk and steps of the Alhambra, where three of the original palaces still exist, and restoration work is continuing. Here one can see first hand the skill, design and engineering knowledge of the Moors in these beautiful ancient buildings. We had been to visit many years ago, but even with the tour groups it was no less impressive.
Our return to Malaga was on the good four lane coastal highway, just inland from the Mediterranean sea. Luis was able to demonstrate his driving skill on the winding road.
At out request Maike and Luis dropped us off at the famous Pimpi Restaurant, where we saw the Roman Theatre and ruins of the castle across the street. Some dishes were good, but generally we felt the food and service were sub-standard and over priced. Maike told us the next day that the restaurant is not only popular with tourists, but a great favourite of local residents, however it is necessary to know what to order.
We walked home through the twisting narrow streets without getting lost. We passed a fashion show in one of the plazas with a huge crowd of spectators. and the area was full of shops. Marilynn & Stephanie were keen on the show and the shopping, so I showed them how to get to our apartment and continued back on my own. When I arrived at the door it turned out I didn't have my keys, so it was back to where I last saw the ladies. Fortunately, they were in a shop near the place we parted. so after they came the the apartment to let me in they went back to carry on shopping while I settled in to do a bit of writing..
Spain 2016: 4. Gibratar, UK to Cadiz, Spain
Wednesday, May 18, 2016
We were picked up at 9 AM and drove along the Costa del Sol through the city of Torremolinos, which is where tourism on this famous coast originated. It has a low season population of around 75,000, which soars to 200,000 in high season. This tripling of the population is usual all along Costa del Sol.
At Benalmadena we turned inland and climbed to the amazing Castle Monument Colmares, built by Dr. Stephen Martin in 1987 with the help of two bricklayers - it took him 7 years. It incorporates Byzantine, Romanesque, Gothic and Mudejar styles of architecture and is dedicated to Christopher Columbus. It definitely worth a detour to see, and there are great views from there.
From there we went further into the hills to the beautiful ancient hill town of Mijas, where we walked through the winding streets between well kept old buildings. The town is famous for its donkey carts. as donkeys were used a lot in an old quarry. There is also a fascinating old cave church. Meike had a coffee and I a beer while Stephanie and Marilynn went on a donkey ride.
Further along the coast we came to Marbella where we walked to the beach and had a lunch of sardines cooked over a wood fire, anchovies and clams, for which this area is famous. All were superb. The shops were interesting and the prices reasonable, so when Stephanie spotted a dress she really liked Marilynn bought it for her as a birthday gift.
We finished the drive on 120 kph express highway, arriving at the Asur Hotel in La Linea by about 5:30 PM. The hotel is located a 15 minute walk from the Gibraltar border. Here we said goodbye to Meike and Luis. They did a great job, and would be highly recommended for travel to the Costa del Sol, Malaga and Grenada area. Her company is Malaga Especiales, telephone (0034) 616-359-990, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
We couldn't get a three bed room, but the Azur Hotel is not expensive, so we took two rooms - one for Stephanie. Once moved in we walked a short distance to the old city and found a restaurant for a good dinner. The old town is comparatively small, and not as interesting as the other cities we have visited. The economy here collapsed during the 20 years from 1978 when President Franco closed the border to try to force Britain to hand over Gibraltar. Today a lot of people from La Linea have jobs in Gibraltar and many other jobs are created in supplying the needs of Gibraltar businesses and residents.
Thursday, May 19, 2016
After the best breakfast of the trip, a large buffet with everything one could desire, we walked through the border into Gibraltar with no immigration problem - Carl Mesilio of Gibraltar Inside Out Rock Tours had given our names to immigration and we were expected. We had a bit of a mix up on the place to be picked up, but found one another in time to start the tour.
Gibraltar is near the place where the Moors first invaded in 711. A Moorish fort still survives, plus an Anglican Church that was once a mosque. Gibraltar became Spanish after the Moors were defeated, then was taken by a British & Dutch invasion force about 1704. It was official given to Britain forever by the treaty of Utrecht, but that didn't stop the Spanish and French from trying to take it - Gibraltar was under siege 14 times, once for over three years. We walked through the first of the siege tunnels, 482 meters long. built by hand in 1782, creating gun ports in the rock facing Spain. Construction of tunnels continued over the years, with the biggest project done on the orders of Winston Churchill when an entire city was built inside the rock during WWII..
Currently Gibraltar has a population of about 32,000, plus the workers who come daily from La Linea. The colony is only 4.5 km long by 2.5 km wide with 6 km of surface roads, however inside the rock itself there are 52 km of tunnels which vary from walking size to 2 lane roads large enough for trucks. There are also 140 caves. The land area has increased by 2 sq. km since Marilynn and I were last there, and more land is being created by filling ocean
The first thing we did is cross the airport runway. Barriers lower when planes are on approach, otherwise pedestrians and vehicles cross freely. According to Carl there are only domestic flight from the UK landing at Gibraltar, making it a domestic flight. We visited the dramatic St. Michael's Cave, much improved since out last visit, the Moorish Castle and the massive 100 ton gun that could fire a 2,000 lb shell, powered by 450 lb of gun powder, 8 miles. There were lots of the monkeys for which Gibraltar is famous, climbing on the car and everywhere else up the rock to the top. Carl says they control the population to keep them around 200 by giving birth control pills to the females.
On the way down from the top along a road that hangs on the side of the cliff Carl was telling us about the two James Bond movies made in Gibraltar. One called “Living Daylights” had a chase scene on this stretch of road, where Bond was on the roof of an army jeep loaded with explosives. He cut a hole in the canvas top and was struggling with the bad guy who was trying to keep the vehicle on the twisty, steep road until he lost control, crashed through the stone guard rail and flew into the ocean. James, fortunately, had a parachute with him. Carl had multiple screens in his 9 passenger Mercedes van, and played this part of the movie as we went along so we could see the landmarks we were passing on screen.
We drove around the territory, sometimes through tunnels, to the beautiful beaches on the Mediterranean side, stopping at the southernmost point where there is a modern mosque. The mountains of Africa could be clearly seen across the straight. Carl dropped us at the end of the historic main street, where we walked to the recommended Clipper Pub for my 75th birthday lunch consisting of Gibraltar beer and pub food, including sticky toffee pudding for desert. Another taxi got us back to the border, where there was no one to check any documents. A Spanish taxi picked us up, took us to the hotel to get our luggage and a cash machine to get money before driving us the 165 km to Cadiz, the city from which Columbus sailed.
Our hotel, the Plaza de la luz Cadiz, is in the old city, so once more the narrow pedestrian streets. This apartment may have beat the last one - we have a three bedroom, 2 bathroom, living room & kitchen for the same price we paid for the one in Malaga. There are no tourists that we could see in this area, it was a refreshing change to be among only local residents. Everyone was very friendly.
As usual, once settled we headed out of foot. After a few blocks we sat at a bar located at the junction of five small streets under a couple of large palm trees to drink beer, wine and sangria. The sangria was particularly good, so several of those and a couple of tapas were dinner. Marilynn has taken to ordering white wine and sangria, and mixing them. The bar owner bought us a round of honey rum shooters for my birthday, which we all agreed were delicious. From the bar we walked to the ocean, only a couple of blocks away and followed the walkway beside the sea until we came to a road that led back to out apartment.
Spain 2016: 5. Sevilla to Madrid, Spain & home
Friday, May 20, 2016
A small bar/cafe across from the apartment served a great breakfast including fresh squeezed orange juice. We checked out, then hired a taxi for a city tour at 30 euros per hour - Juan, the driver, gave a great tour. He was born in Cadiz and knew the history well. Tours are expensive, so this was relatively cheap. The Gibraltar tour worked out to 114 euros per hour, and the walking tour we have arranged for Seville is 58 euros an hour with no vehicle.
We started by driving out a long, narrow causeway into the sea. At the end a fortress built in 1600 served as part of the city defences. Looking toward town from the fort, the high sea wall with guard towers stretched along the entire old city. Cadiz was founded by the Phoneticians about 3,000 years ago, making it the oldest continually inhabited city in Europe.
Most of the places to visit are in the old city, where navigating the extremely narrow streets with a car is an art form. As buildings are built right to the street on all corners, it is impossible to see if there is cross traffic until in the intersection.
We stopped at the Gran Teatro Falla where such greats as Pavarotti have been featured, and the botanical gardens along the coast. High watch towers are still scattered throughout the old city - there were originally 47, where lookouts watched for potential invaders. The cathedral was built in 1050, and took 100 years to complete. There was an entry charge and a
line up so we didn't go in. Marilynn spotted the caretaker letting someone out the side door of a big church across the plaza and asked if we could go in. There was only one other person inside and the ornamentation, statues and artwork were possibly more impressive than the cathedral.
We also stopped at the Parroquia De Santa Cruz, originally built in 1238 but destroyed by fire in 1596. It was rebuilt in 1603 to hold a massive, pure silver glassed in coffin and bigger than life sized statues of saints that are carried on the shoulders of strong men in a religious parade in April. Another stop was the super clean central market, even the seafood had little smell. There were more varieties of seafood than I have ever seen offered in one place - and I have seen a lot of markets! For prawns alone there were a dozen varieties, all different colours. They even had moray eel for sale.
Juan left us at the train station after 2 hours, where we used our Eurorail pass to catch the 2:12 PM train to Seville, arriving at 3:49. This was a local train, making a stop about every ten minutes, but it reached 160 kph between stations.
A taxi got us to the Fernando III hotel, an older restored building with beautiful public rooms
Once checked in we found a local restaurant nearby where we had a dinner of huge prawns plus wine, sangria and beer. The temperature was over 30 degrees Celsius in this city of 700,000.
Saturday, May 21, 2016
After breakfast in the same restaurant as last night, at half the cost of the hotel breakfast, we went back to the hotel to wait for the guide. Alexa arrive on time to the minute. I explained that my legs would not manage a 3 1/2 hour tour, so she suggested we see the palace and the cathedral first. The cathedral was the main thing I was interested in seeing, even though we saw it on a previous visit many years ago. She explained that the cathedral was not yet open, and that we would do the palace first. The morning was very cool, but temperatures soon soared to over 30 degrees centigrade again.
The palace dates from Moorish rule in the 9th century, although Sevilla dates from before the 8th century. The palace still has quarters for the current king of Spain on his infrequent visits to Sevilla. It was very impressive, with marvellous gardens and a blend of early Christian over Moorish design. Unfortunately the guide went on and on with detail so when we left there was no hope of seeing the cathedral and still getting back to the hotel to check out, so I took a taxi back to the hotel to catch up on emails and writing.
Marilynn and Stephanie visited the cathedral It was originally built as a mosque. A statue was erected on top, 104 meters high. To get to the highest point in the cathedral it is necessary to walk up a ramp, there are no steps, because in old times horses were ridden to the top levels. It is the third larges Catholic cathedral in the world, and the largest Gothic cathedral in Spain. The main door is opened only for a new archbishop to enter. King Frenando, Queen Isabella and Christopher Columbus are all buried there, even though Christopher Columbus had requested in writing that he be buried in the Dominican Republic. The body was sent there, then to Cuba but finally returned to Spain.
I had a nap on the sofas in the hotel lounge, then a beer before the ladies returned. The guide took us to a restaurant recommended for paella, and it was good. After lunch and drinks it was back to the hotel to recover our luggage from storage and head for the train station by taxi. It was generally agreed that the tour was not worth the cost of 175 euros.
I was disappointed in Eurorail, as tickets purchased at extra cost were for first class but on most trips we were in either second or tourist class. Reservations were made by Eurorail in advance, and first class was available on most trains - we just weren't in it. The 3 hour trip back to Madrid was the least comfortable, largely due to restricted leg room and seats that would not recline. It would have been better to save the money and buy 2nd or tourist class tickets.
Once in Madrid we taxied to the Hotel New Boston near the airport. Before bed we went for drinks and a snacks. I would recommend this hotel. The service and food were good, rooms comfortable with a large bathroom and a free shuttle for the 15 minute ride to the airport.
Sunday, May 22, 2016
We skipped breakfast to catch the 9 AM shuttle to the airport, where after some confusion got checked in. They have a priority line for security, with no line up at all. We had a good breakfast in the lounge, where there was a good buffet featuring most things one would want. There were also three well stocked self serve bars.
The flight, once again, was very comfortable. It was pleasant to be aboard for the 11 hour trip, with good service, a selection of movies and flat beds. I couldn't get the free wifi on board to work, but other than that all went smoothly.
Coming up in early June is our annual trip to Victoria, Canada. This year at the end of June we will take the old Rolls to Banff to pick up our friend from China and her son. This is the lady who got our car into China when everyone said it couldn't be done, and is the one to talk to if China is in your travel thoughts. In mid July we will fly to Japan for a cruise through the north islands and to a port on Sakhalin Island, part of east Russia. Back in Japan we'll tour a bit before going to South Korea. From there I'll be heading for the far north of Canada to board the Russian icebreaker, Kapitan Khlebnikov to travel back to east Russia. The flight home will be from Alaska.
Story originally published here: http://www.talisphere.com/travel